Benefits of Milk Thistle: Side Effects & Uses Guide (2023)

Milk thistle, despite being pretty common, is not actually a widely known plant. Coming from the same plant family as the daisy, this prickly purple herb has been used in medicinal remedies for over 2000 years, and scientists today are still studying the numerous benefits of the milk thistle.

From relieving bloating to healing radiation damage, the milk thistle is a versatile plant that helps a range of conditions. Whilst some benefits have yet to produce scientific evidence, others are well documented.

In this guide we’ve provided you with information on the various milk thistle benefits, as well as some other key information, including:

  • What is Milk Thistle?
  • 13 Benefits of Milk Thistle
  • Side Effects of Milk Thistle
  • Milk Thistle Dosage
  • When to Take Milk Thistle
  • How to Take Milk Thistle
  • How Long Does Milk Thistle Take to Work
  • How Long to Take Milk Thistle For

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What is Milk Thistle?

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Silybum Marianum, otherwise known as Milk Thistle, is an annual plant that was originally native of Southern Europe and Asia but is now found throughout the world. It is a typical thistle, which is a flower with prickly leaves, and has a red/purple colour to it.

Its leaves have shiny white veins on them, and the plant oozes a white liquid if cut, which gives the plant its name. The milk thistle plant can grow to heights of up to 79 inches tall.

Milk Thistle has more uses than just looking pretty in your garden though. It can be used as a herbal remedy which can provide a number of different health benefits.

The ingredients in milk thistle are a group of plant compounds collectively known as silymarin. Silymarin is known to have antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties, as discussed in the journal of Integrative Cancer Therapies:

“Silymarin functions as a potent antioxidant that stabilizes cell membranes, stimulates detoxification pathways, regenerates liver tissue, inhibits the growth of some cancer cell lines, exerts direct cytotoxic activity toward select cancer cell lines, and increases the efficacy of some chemotherapy agents.” (Post-White, Ladas and Kelly, 2007)

The herbal remedy is known as milk thistle extract and has a high amount of silymarin (65-80%) that has been concentrated from the milk thistle in it.

Milk thistle is available in a variety of supplements, such as tablets, capsules, and powders, and has a wide range of health benefits to it, including the ability to help your liver, help with cancer treatment, control diabetes, and even help you with your hangovers after a heavy night out!

In this article, we’re going to be looking at the milk thistle benefits, as well as some of the possible side effects from the herbal remedy if you happen to take too much of it.

Disclaimer: The information in this guide is intended only for educational purposes and should not replace the professional advice or guidance of your doctor or health practitioner.

13 Milk Thistle Benefits

#1- Helps the Liver

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Does milk thistle help the liver?

Yes, it does! One of the biggest benefits of milk thistle is its ability to help protect and repair your liver.

For people who suffer from liver problems such as hepatitis, fatty liver, or who’ve damaged their liver through excessive alcohol intake, milk thistle is regarded as one of the best natural treatments for these issues.

The silymarin in milk thistle acts as a gatekeeper to the liver. When consumed, it binds itself to the outside of the liver cell and fights off any unwanted toxins that may try to enter. It also seeks out toxins that have already got in and neutralises them before they can do any more damage.

Silymarin’s other role in the liver is to help cell regeneration. Liver cells regenerate naturally, but silymarin helps speed up the process by stimulating protein synthesis in the cells.

Bodybuilders who take steroids, for example, can put the liver under considerable stress and damage cells. By taking milk thistle with steroids, the silymarin helps protect the liver and is able to regenerate the cells that are damaged.

Milk thistle has also been found to be effective with its ability to encourage the liver to cleanse itself of any toxins. Milk thistle prevents the depletion of glutathione, an amino acid that is essential for the detox process.

How long does milk thistle take to work?

It depends. Sometimes it can take up to 3 months for a milk thistle supplement to show its benefit. Our best advice is to stick with it, as it’ll benefit you in the long run for sure!

As for milk thistle dosage for fatty liver, a 90-day study found that 250-376mg of milk thistle per day helped reduce liver fat.

Milk thistle’s liver cleansing properties, as well as its ability to help repair and protect your liver, make it one of the best natural remedies to take for your liver’s health.

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#2 - Improve Cancer Treatment

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Whilst fighting cancer isn’t one of the milk thistle benefits, it can be used in other ways, such as helping to improve cancer treatment.

(Video) 8 Benefits of Milk Thistle for the Liver

Antioxidants are substances that can protect your cells against free radicals, which are molecules that can play a role in the formation of cancer and heart disease.

Silymarin has antioxidant effects in it, which have been suggested to possibly have anti-cancer effects, making milk thistle a very helpful natural remedy for people receiving cancer treatment.

One study in breast cancer patients saw them applying silymarin gel to the chest following a mastectomy and during radiotherapy. The aim of this study was to see whether the gel could help prevent radio-dermatitis, which is when the skin becomes inflamed and sore after radiotherapy.

Patients had the silymarin gel applied to their skin for the full 5 weeks of treatment. It was found that the silymarin gel reduced the severity of the radio-dermatitis, thus proving that it could be a helpful supplement for improving cancer treatment!

There currently aren’t enough studies or evidence to prove whether or not milk thistle is able to help slow down or even prevent cancerous cells from forming, however its ability to help with cancer treatment is definitely a great start.

#3 - Can Help Regulate Diabetes

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Another one of milk thistle’s health benefits is its ability to help regulate diabetes.

Medical studies have found that people with diabetes who have combined consuming milk thistle supplements with their traditional treatment have seen an improvement with their diabetes. One particular study in the Review of Diabetic Studies states:

“In patients with diabetes and alcoholic liver cirrhosis, a silimarin [silymarin] daily dose of 600 mg for 6 months produced a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose and mean daily glucose levels from the second month of treatment onwards, without any increase in episodes of hypoglycemia, compared with the period before silimarin treatment. Insulin requirement was also decreased by 20%, suggesting an alleviation of insulin resistance due to silimarin treatment.” (Kazazis et al., 2014)

This is because the compounds found in milk thistle have been found to work in a similar way to some diabetic medication. One way in which it does this is by helping improve insulin sensitivity, a key characteristic of type 2 diabetes.

Another one of milk thistle uses when it comes to diabetes is its ability to decrease blood sugar levels. In a 2016 study in the Journal of Diabetes Research, researchers found that giving patients with diabetes silymarin alongside their traditional treatments actually reduced fasting blood sugar levels.

Did you know that the benefits of blueberries also includes helping regulate diabetes?

Milk thistle has also been proven to lower cholesterol, which can have a positive impact on regulating diabetes.

Additionally, it is believed that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of milk thistle can be useful in reducing any risk of developing diabetic complications such as kidney disease!

It’s important to note that certain chemicals in milk thistle might lower blood sugar levels, which could lead to people with diabetes needing to adjust their medications. You must speak to your GP before trying milk thistle supplements if you have diabetes.

Whilst, again, more research is needed into just how much milk thistle can benefit and help people in regulating their diabetes, the benefits we’ve mentioned so far are definitely worth looking into.

#4 - May Improve Cognitive Function

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Some benefits of milk thistle that might interest pretty much everyone is the fact that it might be able to help improve cognitive function and prevent age-related decline in the brain’s functionality.

Milk thistle has been used as a natural remedy for conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s for over 2,000 years. The silymarin found in milk thistle has been shown to increase resistance to oxidative stress, which is a potential cause of Alzheimer’s disease.

This is because, as we know, silymarin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant prosperities, making it a great defence against oxidative stress, and possibly meaning that it’s neuro-protective.

Studies on animals with Alzheimer’s have also found that taking milk thistle might be able to reduce the number of amyloid plaques in the brain. Amyloid plaques are clusters of sticky amyloid proteins which build up between nerve cells as you get older.

They can also build up in the blood vessels too, which can restrict the amount of blood that gets to the brain. Not enough blood reaching the brain could ultimately result in a stroke.

Amyloid plaques are found in very high numbers in people with Alzheimer’s, so consuming milk thistle might be able to make a positive difference in these people’s lives.

Early research has also found that silymarin improves mental function and disease stabilisation in people with Parkinson’s disease too!

More research is needed into whether milk thistle’s positive effects on animals will be able to affect humans in the same way.

#5 - Keep Your Skin Healthy

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Not only can you use milk thistle for liver problems or regulating diabetes, but you can also use it to keep your skin healthy and treat acne.

Acne is an inflammatory skin condition. Whilst it may not be painful, it can leave scars and affect people’s confidence in the way that they look.

Acne is caused when your pores are clogged up by too much sebum, an oily substance that’s main role is to lubricate the hair. One of the reasons that excess sebum is created is due to excess hormonal activity. That’s why acne is most common in teenagers, though it can affect anyone at any age.

Acne has also been suggested to be caused by oxidative stress, which milk thistle is the perfect combatant for. Due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties, milk thistle can be a useful supplement for treating acne.

Your liver plays an important role in balancing your hormones, as it removes compounds that have accumulated in the body, such as hormones. Milk thistle can help your liver flush out any toxins that have been hanging around, which in turn can help purify and cleanse the skin!

“How much milk thistle should I take for this to work effectively?”, you might ask. There isn’t really a standard milk thistle dosage for acne, however, the recommended dose for keeping the liver healthy is between 50-400mg a day. Repeat this for a few weeks and you could see a difference in the health of your skin.

Milk thistle capsules such as these from Nature’s Garden are some that we’d definitely recommend. They are formulated with 80% milk thistle extract in them, and each capsule is 100mg.

Using milk thistle for acne is another of the plant’s many great benefits.

(Video) Milk Thistle Benefits Scientifically Proven Information

#6 - Can Aid Digestion

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If you regularly suffer from stomach issues such as bloating, gas, and indigestion, milk thistle could help you there too.

Bloating can be caused by a multitude of things, such as constipation and irritable bowel syndrome, but it's mainly caused by food intolerance and eating foods that make you gassy.

One again, the liver plays an important role in digestion, just as it does with helping keep your skin healthy.

The liver produces bile, which is needed for digestion and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamins A, D, E, and K. Consuming milk thistle boosts the liver’s bile production rate, meaning healthier digestion and a much more efficient metabolism.

Taking milk thistle tablets can help alleviate the symptoms of an upset stomach or indigestion. When to take milk thistle for these problems is dependent on what the brand of tablets tell you, but typically 30 minutes before a meal, whilst on an empty stomach, is generally seen as the best time to take them.

Natures Aid’s DigestEeze Milk Thistle tablets are a great option if you are suffering from digestive problems, as they relieve the symptoms of what can be a painful and uncomfortable issue. You can buy a milk thistle supplement from all good drug stores and online, even on websites such as Amazon.

Another food that's great for aiding digestion is the eggplant. Read through our article to find out the other benefits of eggplant and why you should be eating it.

A lot of milk thistle's benefits stem from having a healthy liver, so it’s important that you keep it that way to ensure you experience all of the plant’s health benefits!

#7 - Can Help with Hangovers

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Anyone who drinks alcohol will probably have experienced a hangover the morning after a heavy night out and will know how horrible they are. You’ll be glad to know then that milk thistle is regarded as being a possible hangover remedy.

Hangovers are caused by your blood alcohol level returning to zero, which in turn causes symptoms such as headaches, upset stomachs, dry mouth, fatigue, and sensitivity to light. It can also affect your sleep and trigger mild dehydration.

Toxic byproducts left behind when your body breaks down alcohol can cause inflammation throughout your body, especially in the stomach, brain, and liver. Over time, the inflammation on the liver can irreversibly scar it, causing cirrhosis, which could lead to poor liver function.

It is suggested that silymarin may be able to detoxify some of the more harmful compounds in alcohol, protecting your liver in the process.

Free radicals are produced by your body when it metabolises alcohol, which is where silymarin’s antioxidant properties come in handy in helping protect your liver against them.

Despite some of the benefits that taking milk thistle tablets will have on your body after a heavy drinking session, it shouldn’t be considered an out-and-out hangover cure. Whilst it may help flush out some of the nastier toxins from your liver, it won’t cure the headaches or dry mouth caused by dehydration, so you’ll have to find an alternative cure to deal with those symptoms!

To answer the question ‘does milk thistle reduce CDT levels?’, there isn’t enough evidence to prove that it does. We strongly advise against driving when there’s alcohol in your system, no matter how much milk thistle you’ve consumed.

Despite all this, milk thistle will definitely help you start to overcome your hangover, even if it won’t fully cure it.

#8 - Supports Weight Loss

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Another one of the milk thistle health benefits is supporting weight loss, thanks to its ability to help detoxify the liver and help to reduce your blood sugar levels.

In some animal research, mice were fed a high fat diet that was intended to make them put on weight. However, when silymarin was introduced to their meals, the mice didn’t become obese. In fact, they lost weight. Whilst more human research is needed, this is a promising start.

As we already know, milk thistle helps balance your blood sugar levels, which has an effect on how milk thistle benefits weight loss. When your blood sugar levels are stable, you will have fewer cravings, meaning you’re less likely to go and snack on foods that you shouldn’t, i.e foods that are high in sugar, carbs, and/or fat.

Having a stable blood sugar level will also mean that you will feel fuller for longer, once again reducing the need to snack.

Another point we already know is that milk thistle and the silymarin found in it helps you digest your food better. When you digest efficiently, your liver is able to eliminate toxins more efficiently, meaning your body is able to metabolise fat better.

The better your liver the better your metabolism, and the faster your metabolism, the less weight you’ll put on.

#9 - Can Help Keep Your Heart Healthy

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Another of the more important benefits of milk thistle is its ability to keep your heart healthy.

Studies have shown that people taking milk thistle supplements have lower cholesterol levels than those who don’t. The silymarin in milk thistle works in part by inhabiting the same enzyme that statin-type-cholesterol lowering drugs block.

Having high cholesterol can be really bad for your heart and could see you suffer from heart attacks and strokes unless reduced to a healthy level.

LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is known as being a bad cholesterol because it’s the kind of cholesterol that can clog your arteries. Clogged up arteries mean that your heart has to work harder to pump the blood around the body, which can put enormous strain on it, as well as cause high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to cardiac arrests and strokes, which can be fatal.

Milk thistle lowers cholesterol levels, meaning your heart doesn’t have to work as hard getting blood around the body, thus lowering your blood pressure and reducing the risk of you suffering from heart attacks or strokes.

HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, aka good cholesterol, helps bring LDL from the bloodstream to the liver. From the liver, the excess LDL is removed, once again proving the importance of having a healthy liver, something we know milk thistle can help with!

Therefore, a way to keep your heart healthy, reduce your risks of high blood pressures and heart attacks, and keep your cholesterol levels low, is by adding milk thistle to your diet!

#10 - Keep Bones Healthy

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(Video) Milk Thistle Supplement Benefits, 2 Week Review And Side Effects

Milk thistle benefits may also extend into playing a role in keeping your bones healthy.

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when the bone loses density or too little bone is made. The result is the bones becoming weak and at risk of breaking much more easily than normal. A lack of calcium, as well as eating disorders, are two huge reasons as to how osteoporosis happens.

Postmenopausal women are susceptible to osteoporosis due to the fact that their oestrogen levels drop during the menopausal transition period.

Animal studies have shown that milk thistle can stimulate bone mineralisation and possibly even protect you against bone loss.

Another supplement that can benefit bone health (as well as gut health) is L-Glutamine. To find out more about it and its benefits, read our l-glutamine benefits, side effects, and uses guide.

Scientists believe that if milk thistle can stimulate bone mineralisation in animals, perhaps human studies will find that it can do the same for us, which would make it a great therapy in delaying or even preventing bone loss and osteoporosis.

More research is definitely needed on the effect of the milk thistle for the menopause and bone disorders, but it's got some encouraging preliminary research.

#11- Helps Balance Hormones

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Other milk thistle benefits include its ability to help keep your hormones balanced.

The liver, as mentioned previously, is very important as it helps eliminate toxins from the body. Some of these toxins could potentially lead to hormonal imbalances or disruption.

This could cause conditions such as hormone-related acne and oestrogen dominance, which could lead to symptoms such as fatigue, depression, weight gain, and low libido.

Keeping your liver healthy is crucial for keeping your hormonal balance in check.

Another reported effect of milk thistle is its ability to help make more of the milk-producing hormone, prolactin, meaning it can boost breast milk production in lactating women.

The study showed that women taking 420mg of silymarin every day for 63 days produced 64% more milk than those who weren’t. However, more research needs to be done to confirm milk thistle’s full effects in this area of study.

Keeping your liver healthy and clean through consuming milk thistle will definitely help keep your hormones in balance, as well as help flush out any nasty toxins that might have a negative effect on them.

#12 - Easy to Consume

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One of the more convenient benefits of milk thistle is that consuming it is easy and hassle-free.

The milk thistle supplement is available in a variety of formats. As you already know, milk thistle is available as a tablet. Milk thistle tablets benefits include ensuring that you don’t suffer from indigestion, bloating, or gas after your meal, when taken some 30 minutes before eating on an empty stomach.

Tablets such as Healthspan Milk Thistle Complete combines milk thistle seed extract with Vitamin B, calcium, and choline to give your digestive system and liver the support they need to ensure that work at maximum capacity, and keep your body free of toxins, and hopefully, keep you fit and healthy.

Solgar Milk Thistle complex capsules are also a great option too, with one capsule containing 350mg of raw milk thistle seed powder, and 100mg milk thistle seed extract, which is 80% silymarin. You’ll definitely be getting your money's worth with these.

There is also milk thistle powder available too, which you can add to your yoghurt, cereal, or even soups and stews. It does the same job as the tablets and capsules by giving your liver some much needed support. Some of the best milk thistle powder on the market is this by Nature’s Root, which is made from organic milk thistle powder and has no added preservatives or artificial flavourings. It’s relatively cheap too, which is always a plus!

If you need advice on supplements for helping fatigue or tiredness, check out our guide on the best vitamins for energy.

You can also make milk thistle tea, which is great news if you’re a tea drinker.

It’s difficult to pick the best milk thistle supplement available as the various formats and formulas will appeal to different tastes; some people will want pure milk thistle whilst others might want other added benefits like vitamins or amino acids. If you’re unsure about fully committing to this supplement we suggest starting with milk thistle tablets as they’re easy to take.

Whatever milk thistle complex you decide to go for, you know that you’ll be getting something that will have a hugely positive benefit on your liver's health, and your overall general health as well.

#13 - Reduce the Effects of Seasonal Allergies

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Hay fever and seasonal allergies are some of the most common conditions for people across the globe, and those that experience it know exactly how debilitating and infuriating it can be.

Hay fever is technically classified as an allergic reaction to pollen, which many people suffer with more during early spring and summer months where plants are thriving and more pollen is produced.

Common symptoms include sneezing, itchy and runny eyes, itchy throat, tiredness, and headaches from blocked sinuses.

There are some preliminary studies that show that taking milk thistle alongside regular hay fever medication (cetirizine) can help reduce the symptoms and effects of this allergic reaction, due to its silymarin content which works as a natural antihistamine.

Any natural remedy that can help reduce the severity of hay fever symptoms is hugely beneficial and worth further study.

Side Effects of Milk Thistle

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As with a lot of supplements out there, milk thistle does have some side effects, though fortunately not many.

Some of the milk thistle side effects include the aforementioned ability to lower your blood sugar level. Whilst this may not be a bad thing in itself, if you are diabetic and don’t consult your GP or adjust your medicine accordingly, this could have dangerous effects on your health.

(Video) 4 Insane Benefits Of MILK THISTLE & concerns. A herbalist's favourite!

It is advised that if you have hormone-sensitive conditions, then milk thistle might have oestrogenic effects, which could make some conditions worse, including some types of breast cancer.

If you’re allergic to the milk thistle plant family, then it is advised that you don’t consume it at all. If you’re allergic to daisies, kiwi, or artichokes then you may be allergic to milk thistle as well.

In extreme and very rare cases, milk thistle can cause anaphylaxis. This is a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction: if you experience hives, rapid heartbeat, swelling (face, tongue, and/or throat), or shortness of breath after taking milk thistle or milk thistle supplements then seek immediate emergency help.

Some potential side effects of milk thistle include:

  • Stomach problems (such as stomach ache, gas, bloating)
  • Rashes
  • Heartburn
  • Sexual dysfunction (in extreme cases)
  • Headaches
  • Weakness

However milk thistle is considered to be safe in doses of up to 420mg per day, so overdosing on it will be quite a difficult thing to do.

It has been reported that in studies where high doses of milk thistle were taken for long periods of time, only 1% of people experienced any side effects, meaning that for the most part, milk thistle is relatively risk-free, as stated in the American Family Physician scientific journal:

“Aside from mild gastrointestinal distress and allergic reactions, side effects are rare, and serious toxicity rarely has been reported. In an oral form standardized to contain 70 to 80 percent silymarin, milk thistle appears to be safe for up to 41 months of use. Significant drug reactions have not been reported.” (Rainone, 2005)

To answer the question, “is milk thistle good for you?”, judging by all the benefits it has, including keeping your liver healthy, maintaining your hormonal balance, helping you deal with acne and playing a role in curing your hangovers, the answer is going to have to be a resounding yes!

Milk Thistle Dosage

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The exact dosage of milk thistle for highest efficacy is currently unknown.

Unfortunately, whilst most scientific studies are researching milk thistle health benefits it is still relatively unclear as to exactly how much milk thistle to take daily for the best health results. That being said, the European Medicines Agency give these dosage guidelines for adults:

  • For herbal tea (single dose): “3-5 g in 100 ml of boiling water, 2- 3 times daily, before meals.”
  • For powdered herbal substance (single dose): “300 mg–600 mg, 2-3 times daily. Daily dose: up to 1800 mg, before meals.” (European Medicines Agency, 2018)

The European Medicines Agency also states that there isn’t enough research into the side effects of milk thistle on those going through pregnancy or lactation, so the current recommendation is to avoid taking milk thistle during this time.

In terms of dosages for milk thistle supplements, these can range widely. As a general guideline, the higher the included dose, the higher the likelihood of experiencing side effects of milk thistle.

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When to Take Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is generally tolerated well by the body, meaning you can take it pretty much whenever you want. It won’t keep you awake at night, it can be taken on an empty stomach or combined with meals as an added ingredient, and there isn’t a particular time of day where it’s more potent or effective.

If you’re taking milk thistle for acid reflux, bloating, or other similar stomach issues, then it is generally recommended that the best time to take milk thistle is around half an hour before a meal.

On the other hand, if you overeat and are experiencing stomach ache or lethargy from too much food, then taking milk thistle after you’ve eaten will help reduce these issues too.

How to Take Milk Thistle (Capsules, Tablets, Powders, Drops)

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There are numerous ways to add milk thistle into your diet, either through more natural ways or through milk thistle supplements.

A few natural ways include making tea, tinctures, herbal infusions, or using flowers and leaves as vegetables. For tea, tinctures, and herbal infusions, steeping the milk thistle in hot water for around 20 minutes will produce the desired drink, then adding whatever additional ingredients you prefer (e.g. milk, sugar, honey etc.). The flowers and leaves of the milk thistle plant can easily be used to substitute veg such as spinach, and can be added into salads easily.

The only caveat with these is that getting hold of fresh milk thistle can be difficult. However, it is easy to grow in most areas; milk thistle is considered a weed so it can grow in even poor quality soil, it doesn’t require much regular upkeep or pruning, and is quite a hardy plant.

The milk thistle seeds are easily added to a variety of food items, either whole or ground. Whilst the seeds don’t extract well enough for tea, they can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. Milk thistle seeds can be ground up and added into foods such as salads, porridge, cereals, smoothies, and many savory dishes too. The seeds typically have an oily, sweet and bitter taste simultaneously.

Milk thistle supplements are also readily available and come in capsules and tablets, powders, and even liquid drops. Capsules and tablets often have other added ingredients such as vitamins and minerals to increase the health benefits, and powders sometimes do too.

If you’re unsure of how to take milk thistle, then you actually have a couple of options. Capsules are actually one of the easiest ways, while powders can be mixed into dishes similarly to milk thistle seeds.

When buying milk thistle powders or tablets, be sure to check the form of the milk thistle along with the dosage. Supplements use either milk thistle extract (the more concentrated form), milk thistle fruit which is the raw form of the plant (extracted from the seeds), or just silymarin (which is the main beneficial part of the milk thistle).

Ideally, your milk thistle tablets or powder should contain 80% or more silymarin in order to be most effective.

“How to take milk thistle drops?” is a common question, and the answer is quite simple! There are a few milk thistle drop products available and the prevailing guideline is to add 15-20 drops of the liquid into water and drink this once or twice a day (if you’ve not taken milk thistle before then start off slowly, try 8 or 9 drops to start with and build up the volume once your body adjusts). Be sure to check the instructions in case they specify different amounts.

Milk thistle can also be applied to the skin to help heal damage caused by radiation, such as cancer treatments.

How Long Does Milk Thistle Take to Work

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There isn’t an exact science behind this, but generally it can take around 3 to 4 months before someone will see any benefits of milk thistle on their health, and this is after daily intake of some form of milk thistle.

This time scale is pretty much the same, even if you’re asking “how long does it take for milk thistle to help the liver?” or “how long does it take for milk thistle to lower liver enzymes?”.

How Long to Take Milk Thistle For

Milk thistle is generally considered safe to be taken long term, with the previously mentioned study stating it was safe for up to 41 months.

If you’re wondering how long to take milk thistle for a liver cleanse, then the answer is similar to the previous section, as at around 3 to 4 months you should be able to notice health benefits. However, liver cleanses or liver detoxes don’t have substantial scientific backing as to whether they actually work, so conduct these with the knowledge that it isn’t a proven method for repairing liver damage.

(Video) Does Milk Thistle Work for the Liver?


Prickly yet propitious; the humble milk thistle has a wide range of health benefits which explains why it has been used as a herbal remedy for thousands of years. The extent of its healing properties isn’t currently known, with recent studies being somewhat inconclusive on efficacy and effect, yet it is still a worthwhile plant to invest time and energy into.

Be sure to consult your doctor or health professional if you’re considering adding milk thistle into your diet and you have underlying health conditions, as it can have an impact on varying diseases and conditions.

If learning about health and nutrition really interests you then perhaps becoming a personal trainer or nutritionist would be a great career change for you. Have a look at our level 4 advanced sports nutrition course, or download our latest course prospectus for more information.


  1. European Medicines Agency (2018). European Union Herbal Monograph on Silybum Marianum (L.) Gaertn., Fructus. Pp.1–7.
  2. Kazazis, C.E., Evangelopoulos, A.A., Kollas, A. and Vallianou, N.G. (2014). The Therapeutic Potential of Milk Thistle in Diabetes. The Review of Diabetic Studies, 11(2), pp.167–174.
  3. Post-White, J., Ladas, E.J. and Kelly, K.M. (2007). Advances in the Use of Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum). Integrative Cancer Therapies, pp.104–109.
  4. Rainone, F. (2005). Milk Thistle. American Family Physician, 72(7), pp.1285–1292.


What are the negative side effects of milk thistle? ›

Milk thistle can cause: Gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting and abdominal bloating. Itchiness. Headache.

What effect does milk thistle have on the body? ›

Milk thistle is taken by mouth most often for liver disorders, including liver damage caused by chemicals, alcohol, and chemotherapy, as well as liver damage caused by Amanita mushroom poisoning, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, chronic inflammatory liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and chronic hepatitis.

Who should not use milk thistle? ›

Milk thistle should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women. People with a history of hormone-related cancers, including breast, uterine, and prostate cancer, should not take milk thistle. DO NOT take milk thistle if you are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, chamomile, yarrow, or daisies.

What does milk thistle cure? ›

Historically, people have used milk thistle for liver disorders and gallbladder problems. Milk thistle is promoted as a dietary supplement for hepatitis, cirrhosis, jaundice, diabetes, indigestion, and other conditions.

Is it better to take milk thistle at night or morning? ›

Milk thistle is generally tolerated well by the body, meaning you can take it pretty much whenever you want. It won't keep you awake at night, it can be taken on an empty stomach or combined with meals as an added ingredient, and there isn't a particular time of day where it's more potent or effective.

What organs does milk thistle help? ›

What Is Milk Thistle Used For? People have traditionally used milk thistle for problems with the liver and gallbladder . Experts believe silymarin is the primary active ingredient of the herb. Silymarin is an antioxidant compound taken from milk thistle seeds.

Does milk thistle affect sleep? ›

Sleep quality also improves. The effect of taking milk thistle by itself is not known. Multiple sclerosis. Early research suggests that taking a combination supplement containing silymarin, a chemical found in milk thistle, can improve mental function and promote disease stabilization in people with multiple sclerosis.

Does milk thistle detox your body? ›

Milk thistle (Silymarin marianum) is a well-known herbal therapeutic commonly used for liver support. It supports detoxification through enhancing liver as well as kidney and pancreatic function.

How much milk thistle should you take daily for liver health? ›

If you're taking milk thistle for the liver, the recommended daily intake of milk thistle is 150 milligrams, taken one to three times daily. This is a somewhat high dose that can act as a natural liver detox. For ongoing use and liver support, take 50 to 150 milligrams daily.

Does milk thistle help repair the liver? ›

Liver healing and regeneration

Milk thistle helps stop oxidative stress and free radical damage in the liver. Research shows milk thistle restores damaged cells. Silymarin also protects the liver against damage from alcohol and some prescription drugs.

Can milk thistle reverse liver damage? ›

Milk thistle will not reverse existing liver damage, and it will not cure infection with the hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus. Milk thistle should not be used by people who have complications from cirrhosis (such as variceal bleeding or ascites).

What is better than milk thistle for liver? ›

Like milk thistle, artichoke leaf contains the important flavonoid silymarin. Silymarin is best known for its abilities in protecting the liver. Artichoke leaf also contributes to overall health and welling by helping to maintain healthy cholesterol levels in people at risk of coronary heart disease.

Does milk thistle cause joint pain? ›

The most common side effect of taking milk thistle is mild gastrointestinal upset. However, other side effects may include headaches, joint pain, or sexual dysfunction. It is possible to be allergic to milk thistle as well and have a serious allergic reaction.

What is the safest brand of milk thistle? ›

The Best Milk Thistle Supplements
  • Best Overall. Puritan's Pride Milk Thistle. Affordable Six Month Supply. ...
  • Best Antioxidant Formula. Jarrow Formulas Milk Thistle. ...
  • Strongest Dose. Fresh Nutrition Milk Thistle Capsules. ...
  • Best for Liver Health. FarmHaven Milk Thistle Capsules. ...
  • Most Trusted. Nature's Bounty Milk Thistle Capsules.
13 Feb 2020

Is milk thistle good for nerves? ›

Milk thistle enhanced nerve growth factor (NGF)-induced neurite outgrowth in PC-12 neural cells and prolonged their survival in culture.

How much milk thistle should I take for fatty liver? ›

Milk thistle is marketed as capsules or tablets containing ethanol extracted silymarin in amounts of 250 to 750 mg and is purported to be beneficial for liver disease, including alcoholic and viral liver disease. The daily dosage varies but it is typically taken 2 to 3 times daily.

When is milk thistle best taken? ›

Milk thistle can be taken on an empty stomach. Some believe this makes it work faster; however, very sensitive individuals should consider taking milk thistle with a meal instead. Milk thistle can be taken in herbal capsules or liquid extracts.

What is the best amount of milk thistle to take? ›

There is no standardized dosage or recommended intake for milk thistle tea, but it's generally considered safe if consumed in moderation. Milk thistle supplements, for reference, are tolerated at doses of up to 700 mg, 3 times per day for 24 weeks ( 1 ).

How long should you take milk thistle? ›

Milk thistle is considered safe in dosages of 420 mg/day orally in divided doses for up to 41 months.

How do you know when your liver is healed? ›

You will experience physical signs your liver is healing, such as healthier-looking skin and eyes, increased energy levels, and reduced stomach pain and swelling. Other signs your liver is healing include: Improved amino-acid regulation – Your liver processes proteins and amino acids that your body cannot store.

Is milk thistle worth taking? ›

Medical research on milk thistle and liver health has led to mixed results. Studies show that silymarin may help ease inflammation and promote cell repair. This may help ease symptoms from liver diseases like jaundice, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and fatty liver disease.

Can you take milk thistle with other vitamins? ›

No interactions were found between milk thistle and Vitamins.

What is the best drink to flush your liver? ›

Here is a list of drinks that help in natural cleansing and detoxification of the liver according to Medical News.
  • Coffee. Coffee is good for the liver, especially because it protects against issues such as fatty liver disease. ...
  • Ginger and lemon drink. ...
  • Oatmeal drink. ...
  • Tumeric drink. ...
  • Green tea. ...
  • Grapefruit drink.
20 May 2020

What is good for repairing the liver? ›

11 Foods That Are Good for Your Liver
  • Coffee. Coffee is one of the best beverages you can drink to promote liver health. ...
  • Tea. ...
  • Grapefruit. ...
  • Blueberries and cranberries. ...
  • Grapes. ...
  • Prickly pear. ...
  • Beetroot juice. ...
  • Cruciferous vegetables.

How do I completely heal my liver? ›

When acute liver failure can't be reversed, the only treatment may be a liver transplant. During a liver transplant, a surgeon removes your damaged liver and replaces it with a healthy liver from a donor.

Can a damaged liver regrow? ›

The liver has a unique capacity among organs to regenerate itself after damage. A liver can regrow to a normal size even after up to 90% of it has been removed. But the liver isn't invincible. Many diseases and exposures can harm it beyond the point of repair.

Is milk thistle good for arthritis? ›

Milk Thistle is not used to treat rheumatic conditions. It could possibly be used to prevent liver toxicity from medicines such as methotrexate.

How does milk thistle affect the kidneys? ›

Milk thistle extract can attenuate diabetic renal damage (by decreasing urinary protein excretion), possibly due to its antioxidant action. This effect was also shown with silymarin, the most dominant flavonolignan in milk thistle extract, but to a lesser extent.

Is thistle good for arthritis? ›

Milk thistle for rheumatoid arthritis

The study reported significant reductions in the severity of disease activity, swelling, joint tenderness, and patient-reported pain.

Can milk thistle hurt your liver? ›

It may have protective effects on the liver, preventing damage. There's some evidence that milk thistle can treat cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis, which can be caused by alcohol abuse, autoimmune disease, or viruses.

How long should you take milk thistle for? ›

Milk thistle is considered safe in dosages of 420 mg/day orally in divided doses for up to 41 months.

Does milk thistle cure fatty liver? ›

Medical research on milk thistle and liver health has led to mixed results. Studies show that silymarin may help ease inflammation and promote cell repair. This may help ease symptoms from liver diseases like jaundice, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and fatty liver disease.

What brand of milk thistle is the best? ›

The Best Milk Thistle Supplements
  • Best Overall. Puritan's Pride Milk Thistle. Affordable Six Month Supply. ...
  • Best Antioxidant Formula. Jarrow Formulas Milk Thistle. ...
  • Strongest Dose. Fresh Nutrition Milk Thistle Capsules. ...
  • Best for Liver Health. FarmHaven Milk Thistle Capsules. ...
  • Most Trusted. Nature's Bounty Milk Thistle Capsules.
13 Feb 2020

When is the best time to take milk thistle? ›

Milk thistle can be taken on an empty stomach. Some believe this makes it work faster; however, very sensitive individuals should consider taking milk thistle with a meal instead. Milk thistle can be taken in herbal capsules or liquid extracts.

Does milk thistle raise cholesterol? ›

A: We were surprised to learn that silymarin, the active ingredient in the botanical medicine milk thistle, has been studied as a lipid-lowering agent. One systematic review found that this natural product can contribute to lowering total cholesterol, LDL-C and triglycerides.


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